Starbucks rethinks its bathroom policy

In 2018, following a widely publicized racist incident in one of its stores, the coffee giant opened its restrooms to all. But interim CEO Howard Schlutz says a mental health crisis is putting that policy (and worker safety) in jeopardy.
Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks is reconsidering its open-restroom policy due to a worsening mental health crisis in the U.S. that’s putting worker safety in jeopardy, according to interim CEO Howard Schultz.

“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Schultz said Thursday during an interview at The New York Times-DealBook D.C. policy forum. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”

He listed mental health as the biggest issue Starbucks is dealing with as a company, and said the chain would likely have to provide better training for its workers around the topic.

“The mental health crisis in the country is severe and getting worse,” Schultz said. “We serve 100 million people at Starbucks and there is an issue of safety in our stores, in terms of people coming in who use our stores as a public restroom.”

In 2018, the Seattle-based chain said its restrooms would be open to anyone, regardless of whether they had made a purchase in the store. The new policy also allowed non-paying customers to have access to cafes and patios. That policy over-rode a previous one that only allowed paying customers to use spaces in Starbucks.

“We don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving you access to the bathroom because you are less-than,” Schultz said at the time.

The restroom policy change came about a month after two Black men were arrested for allegedly trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks, after a manager called them out for sitting in the coffee shop without buying anything.

Not long after the incident, the video of which went viral around the country and sparked boycott calls, Starbucks closed all of its then-more than 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores for a half day of racial-bias education and training for all employees.

Starbucks, which now has more than 15,500 U.S. locations, is in the midst of a widespread unionization push that has now spread to about 115 stores.

The chain is also on the hunt for a new CEO, following the March retirement of Kevin Johnson. Starbucks founder Schultz in the Thursday interview said Starbucks is looking for a leader who is culturally sensitive, a visionary, has high-tech experience and is knowledgeable about international business, particularly in China.

“We have a great group of candidates,” he said. “I’m inspired by the people I’ve met. A lot of people want the job.”

Schultz said he intends to hand over the reins by the end of the first quarter next year.

“That’s my current plan,” he said with a smile. “That’s the plan.”

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